When Kelley Higney moved from California to the western communities six years ago, she was inspired by Loxahatchee’s ginormous mosquitoes to find a solution for her family’s itchy, swollen bug bites. The solution is called “Bug Bite Thing,” which was featured on the Sunday, Oct. 20 episode of the ABC series “Shark Tank.”
“I come from a long line of women entrepreneurs, and my mom serves as a guiding light in our Bug Bite Thing business,” Higney said, explaining that it was only natural that she invite her mother, Ellen McAllister, to appear with her on “Shark Tank.”
Good thing she did. The sharks ate it up. Their mother-daughter pitch was so cleverly conceived and choreographed that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said, “Ellen, you have just won the Shark Tank Academy Award with your presentation tonight.”
McAllister’s first line was an attention-grabbing “our product sucks,” and at one point she deftly donned a costume covered with gigantic, scary mosquitoes to hammer home the point.
Bug Bite Thing is like a large syringe, without any needle, that takes suction around surface bites and sucks out the insect saliva or venom that causes itching and swelling. It’s advertised to alleviate itching and swelling within one hour of use. The women entrepreneurs showed before and after pictures and pointed to their web site, which is full of customer testimonials.
Even before their TV appearance, the business has been a huge success. Operating from their garage until just recently, Higney told the sharks that sales last year were $500,000, while the first six months of this year were $800,000. They project $2 million in sales this year, thanks to CVS Pharmacy, which just started carrying Bug Bite Thing in its thousands of stores. The product is already the bestselling bug bite relief item on Amazon.
The premise behind the popular television show “Shark Tank” is that entrepreneurs pitch their products to famous, deep-pocketed, connected investors called “sharks,” hoping to attract partnerships, publicity and investment.
Higney asked the sharks for $150,000 in exchange for a ten percent equity. The product sells for $10 and costs only about $2 each to make and package. The sharks reacted to the 80 percent profit margin the way real sharks react to blood. It quickly turned into a feeding frenzy, with each shark expressing some level of interest.
After Cuban made his “Shark Tank Academy Award” compliment, a billionaire who specializes in turning products into globally recognized brands, Rohan Oza, was the first shark to bite. He immediately offered the asking price of $150,000 for 10 percent, promising to “blow it into Walmart.”
Before Higney could respond, shark Barbara Corcoran, perhaps sensing all the money that could be made, offered a $50,000 over the asking price — $200,000 for 10 percent.
Kevin O’Leary — famous for his cutthroat offers and calling himself “Mr. Wonderful” — was impressed by Higney’s pitch.
“This is the first in a long time that entrepreneurs have asked a realistic selling price,” he said.
Higney acknowledged that she priced Bug Bite Thing to attract the considerable value that the sharks could add to her business. In response, “Mr. Wonderful” offered $150,000, 6 percent equity, plus $1 for every product sold.
Corcoran called his offer “triple dipping” as hungry sharks could be heard in the background trying to put teams together.
Shark Lori Greiner then captured everyone’s attention.
“First of all, I hate bugs,” she said. “I hate mosquitoes, and I hate everything that bites because they always bite me. I don’t do this often, but I am offering you my golden ticket. My offer is your ask of $150,000 for 10 percent.”
The golden ticket is actually made of gold, it’s the size and shape of a raffle ticket, and is Greiner’s gimmicky way of expressing strong interest and promising a hands-on partnership.
The other sharks audibly moaned. Mark Cuban rolled his eyes. Mr. Wonderful facetiously amended his offer to allow the entrepreneurs to sign a deal with his “magic lucky pen.” Things move quickly. Cuban asks Corcoran to team. Corcoran reminded the mother and daughter that her offer is the highest. Sensing defeat, Rohan changed tactics by teaming up and offering “two sharks for price of one.”
All eyes were on Higney when she dramatically announced, “Lori, we accept your offer.” Done deal, and the other sharks reluctantly congratulated Greiner.
As they were walking offstage, McAllister put her arm around her daughter and said, “Kelley, I am so proud of you.”
“I can’t even believe that happened just now,” she replied. “We did a deal with Lori for exactly what we asked.”
While Bug Bite Thing was conceived in Loxahatchee and headquartered there during filming, the women have since moved the operation to Port St. Lucie, where 50 employees and friends congratulated the mother-daughter team with a watch party.
Learn more about the product at www.bugbitething.com.